Greetings Dear Loved Ones & Prayer Partners!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope that this season is catching you all filled with His Son to truly warm you to the bone! Here it is finally getting colder with our first snow falling Christmas night and now the temperatures are staying in the 20’s! YUCK! It’s much too cold and every year so amazing to us that the houses and buildings here (schools and many offices) have no type of central heating but rely solely on kerosene heaters. We heat about ½ of our house, and then only when someone is in the room, so when you travel from room to room it sometimes is an adventure. This time of year the first one to the bathroom usually gets to enjoy a very abrupt wake-up as the temperature is always in the low 30’s to upper 20’s first thing in the morning!
We’ve had so many wonderful reasons to celebrate this month, the Christmas Pageant, Christmas play and party, Caroling, Sharing and Christmas Eve service, but on a selfish note, our biggest joy was watching Zack play basketball! His team qualified to be in the Winter Cup tournament in Tokyo where the 48 prefecture champions gather for a 7 day elimination tournament to find out who is the best! Zack’s team was expected to lose their first game as the other team had several giants! But Zack was AWESOME! He scored 32 points (team had 73) and grabbed down 17 rebounds and totally dominated the much bigger man from the other team! THEY WON! His good play continued into the second game which they also won qualifying them for a birth in the ‘Sweet 16’!!!! The first time ever for his school! The third game wasn’t nearly as successful for his team. They scored only 19 points in the 1st half….but our baby scored FIFTEEN of the nineteen! He is really turning into a great player! He was probably the best 1st grade student in the tournament! (Most teams consist only of 3rd & 2nd year students) He averaged 24 points and 16 rebounds per game!!!! Every game was televised on National TV, so that was really exciting. The announcers especially in the 2nd game were so amazed with him. Now before you think ‘well he is so tall compared to the other Japanese players’, almost every team in the finals have players in the 200 to 210 cm. range, and Zack is at 191, so he is undersize in almost every game! We are SO PROUD and grateful for all that God has allowed him and us to do! For all of you that have been so supportive of us with prayers and financial help, THANKS! We couldn’t possibly be here without your help!
We ended November with the annual Christmas Pageant and Party. This years event was held at the Kokusai 21 hotel and we used two different rooms. About 150 people attended from throughout the city. After a 1 hour party, we moved to the auditorium and enjoyed the Christmas play performed by our local members. 2 of my students had the roles of Mary and Joseph and one was a shepherd! They all did so great! About 30 people said it was the first time to see the Christmas story. We had much special music and wonderful singing and it was an evening to remember!
The following Saturday we had a Christmas party for our English students and their families! We had over 100 people attend of which only about 5 are Christians! This year we combined the party with our church children (6) and with the help of them and some of my students we put on the Christmas play complete with costumes! It was the FIRST time for most in attendance to understand the true meaning of Christmas! God is so GOOD! All of my English students sang the 12 days of Christmas, with each class having different days! My youngest class, 3-5 year olds were the 5th day, and each time it was their turn they would jump up and hold up big gold rings! They were so CUTE! We had an appearance from Santa, had lunch and everyone went home after a wonderful morning!
On December 18th I had our annual Christmas program for our 2 English classes at one of the community centers. This is a city sponsored class, so normally we can’t talk about God, but Christmas is so special! I got to the center at 8:30 and started cooking corned beef! The students arrived at 11 and I taught them how to make brownies, apple crisp and then we got to the main attraction. We fried crocodile and deer! It was the 1st time for them to eat either and they found them both really exciting! We added many veggies to the corned beef, then sat down and enjoyed a wonderful lunch together. After we cleaned up we went upstairs and the students (about 20) took turns reading the Christmas story from the Bible! After each couple of verses we sang Christmas Carols (12 in all) and it was a WONDERFUL afternoon! None of the members are Christian, but we do have 1 that is now a regular member of our Tuesday Bible Study and another occasional visitor to our Sunday service. Please pray that His Spirit can use that afternoon’s program to open their hearts and minds to His amazing love!
December 23rd is a National Holiday here to celebrate the Emperor’s Birthday, but we go annually to the train station and sing Carols! This year was no exception and we had over 50 people join us for a wonderful evening of singing. One of our new neighbors and their family joined us along with 2 of their friends, so that was even more special. Pray for our continued outreach in our area with the 13 new families that God has brought into our lives! We have a GREAT relationship with most of them now, and hope it continues to grow. Four of the families are taking English classes and attending some of the church activities! With continued prayers, they will be SAVED!
December 24th was the church’s Candlelight service. This year we had 39 people in attendance. Over 15 people that were scheduled to come were sick and with the 25th being a school/work day, a later start than the last couple of years also had an affect on the young families. We were blessed with some wonderful music from some really great friends. I ask you to pray specifically for them, Yoko and Taka in particular. Yoko has been coming and singing with us for several years now but still hasn’t totally accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Taka is one of the main priests at the large Buddhist Temple in town. He sings with us almost every year and arranges the music for the chorus group I use to sing with. He loves Christian music and has a wonderful testimony from his trip to the Holy Land! God’s Spirit is alive in his heart I feel, but his work (being a priest is a very lucrative position I think) keeps him from committing to God! So please pray for those 2 in particular but also for all those that attended. Of the 39, over ½ are not Christian!
We will have a special New Year service on the 1st to start out 2009 in His light. We pray for each of you to feel His love throughout 2009!
We trust God to equip us for each and every challenge and opportunity that comes our way. Your prayers and support are vital. Please pray with and for us that God will guide us in all we do and that He will lead us to follow His purpose, wherever that may be, and use us as instruments of His love in all we do. Should God ask any of you to partner with us in our outreach for Him, please send any love offerings to: Bethlehem United Methodist Church, for Baranski John Alan Mission Fund, c/o Becky Wack, 1003 Rowan Cove, New Albany, Ms. 38652.
In His love & walking before Him, the Baranski Bunch